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Polycom Continues Marching to Its New Beat

Polycom raised some eyebrows earlier this year when it announced a partnership with longtime competitor, Zoom. The deal was such a surprise because industry watchers in part link the ease of use and cloud-first approach of Zoom and companies like it to the decline that forced Polcyom into retooling as a private company.

"Would the Zoom alliance be the shape of things to come for Polycom?" we wondered.

We got our answer late last month when Polycom CEO Mary McDowell appeared on CNBC and, asked about the company's future of Polycom, made it clear that Polycom now looks at historical competitors as partners. Watch the interview below and you'll hear her reiterate this message several times when pushed on the topic.

Polycom CEO: Looking at 'competitors as partners' from CNBC.

This week Polycom took the next step on this path when it announced a partnership with BlueJeans, another of its traditional competitors. Polycom video endpoints are now certified to work on the BlueJeans video-as-a-service (VaaS) platform, as Laura Marx, Polycom's senior director of alliance marketing, wrote in a company blog post. This includes the RealPresence Debut solution for small and medium-sized enterprises, as well as the widely deployed RealPresence Group Series for larger customers. For their part, BlueJeans customers will now be able take advantage of a number of cool features, like NoiseBlock and HD Voice, built into Polycom endpoints.

Additionally, as Polycom does more with artificial intelligence (AI) and brings new features to market, customers of Polycom and its partners will have access to them, McDowell said last week during a call with industry analysts.

The strategy makes complete sense for Polycom, given the decline it's experienced in its infrastructure business over the last several years. There's nothing wrong with the technology; Polycom makes some of the best video technology in the industry. However, more and more companies are buying cloud video calling services. The VaaS ship sailed long ago, and developing a video cloud service of its own isn't in Polycom's future, McDowell told me when I questioned her about that potential direction during the analyst call I referenced earlier. Her answer would be different, she said, if she could roll the clock back 10 years.

The partnerships are good news for Polycom customers, many of whom have told me they have an eye on the cloud but want to retain their endpoint investments. Polycom has long been an innovator in the video industry, and a reasonable assumption is that customers would want to have the same look and feel but push the back-end infrastructure into the cloud. Now that's possible with Zoom and BlueJeans being viable options for use in the Polycom ecosystem.

Where to Next?

Now that Polycom has those two deals done, where should the company go next? If McDowell's goal is to partner with competitors, then there's no more appealing a future partner than Cisco.

At a media event last month, Cisco demonstrated a bunch of cool ways AI would change the meeting experience. AI's success depends on the machine learning algorithms as well as the data being processed, and much of that data comes from the audio and video feeds from conference room cameras. A Cisco-Polycom partnership would enable Cisco customers to leverage the huge installed base of Polycom cameras and speaker phones... and give Cisco much more data to work with while easing Polycom worries about Cisco's Spark platform being something that spells doom for it in its customer base. (Note that at one time, I would have thought a Cisco-Polycom partnership would never happen, but now I believe both companies understand that when things are good for the customers, they adopt things faster -- and that's good for everyone.)

Pexip and Vidyo would also make for interesting partnerships with Polycom.

Since its launch, Pexip has been beating the drum of video interoperability. It works particularly well with Microsoft Skype for Business, and recently announced that support for Teams is coming. Polycom has had a strong partnership with Microsoft for years, so a Pexip-Polycom relationship could help accelerate the deployment of products from both companies in Microsoft accounts.

As for Vidyo, since its launch many Enterprise Connects ago the company has been aggressively growing its brand and associating itself with video and UC shifting to software. The company has landed a number of blue chip accounts, such as Bloomberg, and now has its own VaaS offering. The Vidyo customers I have talked to have told me the quality of the video is outstanding. A partnership would marry Polycom's advanced features with the high-quality cloud platform, creating a highly differentiated solution. However, many other video vendors I've talked to say they haven't had much success in trying to work with Vidyo. While its technology is good, it can be too inflexible with its demands --- or so I've been told.

The proverb "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" is definitely company into play here. In this case, the enemy of Polycom and its historical competitors is the customer that doesn't deploy video because it's too hard to get systems to work together. Polycom has plenty of opportunity to make some new friends.

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